Venice had been on my bucket list for a long time, 29 years to be exact. In all that time, I had been waiting for my husband to book us a surprise trip to celebrate one of our wedding anniversaries.
Unfortunately, it still hadn’t happened, and I could see us ending up in the divorce courts before we made it to the city of romance. With this in mind and credit card in hand, his not mine, I booked a three-night stay in Venice to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary.
Was it going to be worth the wait? Would it live up to my expectations? Would I be able to eat my body weight in gelato and not feel guilty? These were the questions running through my mind as we took the 1h 45min flight from Gatwick, arriving at Marco Polo Airport on a sunny afternoon in July.
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Day One Afternoon
Venice Airport to Hotel Transfer
After much research on the quickest and most economical way of travelling from the airport to our hotel, I chose to book a shared water taxi transfer through Venicelink. I felt this was the best option for me when compared to other methods of Venice Water Transport.
After arriving, we walked out of the terminal, waited around 20 minutes at the Venicelink desk and then were escorted to the boat docks. Along with eight other people, we boarded a sleek wooden water taxi that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a James Bond film.
It was thrilling to be speeding through the waters of Venice on route to our hotel, and within around 30 minutes we had dropped the other passengers at their respective hotels and had arrived at our stop, Zattere where we then had a short 5-minute walk to our hotel.
The Nani Mochenigo Palace
Our hotel, the Nani Mochenigo Palace, was breathtaking, and I soon felt like this was the Venice I had dreamed of for so long. After a couple of complimentary glasses of Prosecco, we plotted St Mark’s Square into our route finder, and we were off to explore.
For us, the Apple maps app worked perfectly for our entire 3-day stay, but if you have a different app be prepared to use a paper map to find your way around or just enjoy getting lost!
Navigating our way along the tiny streets, we soon came to the Academia bridge which stretches imposingly across the Grand Canal and connects the areas of Dorsoduro to San Marco, the location of St Mark’s Square.
Academia Bridge was my favourite place to view the Grand canal and take some great photographs.
There are only three other bridges that transcend the Grand canal. Ponte della Costituzione connects the area of the train station with Piazzale Roma, Rialto Bridge which connects San Marco to San Polo and Ponte Degli Scalzi which connects Santa Croce to Cannaregio.
Facts about Venice’s Islands and Bridges
Venice consists of six districts these being: Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, Castello, San Marco, San Polo and Cannaregio composed of 118 islands and 438 connecting bridges. Without even realising it you are crossing from one island to another as you wander through the calles (streets).
The waterways are all referred to as canals. Still, there are only a few “real” canals these being the Grand Canal, the Cannaregio Canal, the Giudecca Canal and some smaller waterways outside the city. The correct title for the other channels that weave their way around the town is Rios (rivers).
St Mark’s Square
Around 30 minutes later we arrived at St Mark’s, the only square in Venice and the location of St Mark’s Basilica. Built originally as the chapel of the Doge who was the magistrate and most senior elected figure, it was changed to a cathedral in 1807 following Napoleon’s victory.
St Mark’s Square is also the location of the Doge’s Palace, which was the seat of the Doges until 1797 and where we would be returning the following evening to do an “after hours” tour of both landmarks. The bell tower looms proudly over the square and gives a bird’s eye view of the area from the top.
Restaurants, shops and bars all line the square, but be careful that you check the prices before ordering as they are extortionate because of the location.
We were shocked that one of the restaurants was charging €18 for a beer, so we opted to buy refreshments away from the square saving ourselves around €10 and brought them back to enjoy while perched on the steps that surround St Mark’s square.
The quirky side of San Marco
As the evening went on, we noticed the square filling up with flood water and found out that when there is a full moon, the gravity pulling on the high tides results in this happening as it is the lowest point in the city.
It was funny to watch people navigating the water to move around the square, but let’s face it this is the city of water! Watch out though as it does get slippery and I nearly ended up on the floor.
After a stop for pizza and gelato, we started the walk back to our hotel, taking in the unique charm of this Unesco listed city. You would be forgiven for imagining you were walking through a film set as nothing has been altered, and modernity hasn’t yet taken hold, and I think this must be one of the best cities in Europe that I have visited.
It would be hard to compare somewhere to Venice with its captivating allure, and after just one evening, it had won a place in my heart.
Day Two: Morning
Joining a walking tour of Venice
After breakfast, we donned comfortable footwear and headed out to join a free walking tour of the city. I’m a great advocate of these tours and have done several around the world. Your guide is usually an academic; therefore, very knowledgeable and can always give great insider recommendations for restaurants and bars!
Venice free walking tours was no exception, and we gathered in the sweltering heat of a July morning to start the tour called Venice through the Centuries (north route). The tour focuses on the streets away from the main tourist areas, and my group consisted of around 20 other travellers.
Tips to remember: Comfortable footwear, water (free fountains to refill your bottles can be found on route), wear a hat, sunscreen and don’t forget a camera because around every corner there is a photo opportunity.
The tour included stories of famous Venetians including Marco Polo the explorer, Casanova the lover and Vivaldi, the composer. We learnt interesting facts such as there are 70,000 tourists in Venice each day which outnumbers the locals and that in the 16th century Venice was the world’s number one centre for printing.
The Italian words seen on the walls were explained to us, such as Campo (fields), Calle (streets) and Rio (rivers). The street names were decided according to the wealthy patrons that lived in each one.
An example would be if George Clooney, the actor, had lived here then the street would have been named Calle Clooney! Stories like this make the tour fun as well as informative, and we enjoyed seeing the quieter side of Venice.
Everyday Life in Venice
The next stop was at Venice’s Hospital SS Giovanni e Paolo which also consists of the Scuola Grande San Marco and its beautiful gold ceiling (there is a small fee to view) As a person who is always concerned about health and safety while travelling this was an interesting place to visit.
I hadn’t previously thought of how a person would get to the hospital or where it would be located in this watery wonderland. Still, here we were standing in front of probably the most beautiful and ornate city hospital I had ever laid seen.
My next question was, how did patients arrive at the hospital, and my answer was just around the corner. That’s right they get here by water ambulance. Certainly not something I would have expected to encounter on a walking tour in this romantic city, but it was interesting to get an insight into the everyday life of this city.
The History of Venetian Masks
Another subject our guide touched upon was the use of masks in Venice. The annual carnival sees thousands of people coming together to recreate a time in Venice when locals wore masks.
The reasons were anything from wanting to conduct an illicit affair without anyone being able to identify you to a businessman who didn’t want his dealings to be common knowledge. By wearing a mask, no one knew who you were or what you were doing!
I found the plague masks most fascinating. These had very long, almost animal-like noses which were stuffed with herbs to keep the stench of decaying plague victims at bay. The plague doctor would have the job of wandering the streets of Venice to find corpses which he would then bury.
Occasionally the victim hadn’t entirely passed away, so to check for this the plague doctor would make a small cut with the knife he carried on a long stick. If the body bled, the person was still alive, but if no blood appeared, the person had passed away and could be buried.
Recreations of all the masks that have been used throughout Venice’s history can be bought from artisan shops. Some are very simple, whereas others are incredibly decorative.
We finished our walk in two hours and with both of us red-faced from the summer sun and in need of a reward for our efforts, we headed to the gelato shop and sat in the shade just people watching.
The beauty of Venice is that even though the area of San Marco is extremely busy with tourists, the outer districts tend to be a lot quieter, so it is worth walking away from the main square to find your solace within the city.
Day Two Afternoon
Eat like a Local
At some point in the day, you will need to eat something other than gelato (though I could probably survive on it) and what better way to have a quick snack than to visit one of the city’s many Cicchetti bars. These bars sell small slices of bread with different toppings.
Priced at around €1.50 each can be accompanied by a glass of wine for about €1.
You can eat standing at the bar, or take your goodies outside, sit on a wall and act like a local.
At this price, you would imagine that the wine wouldn’t be too good, but I was pleasantly surprised. There are so many different foods to eat in Venice however, visiting a Cicchetti bar is something very unique to Venice and I would recommend you try one while you are here. Remember not to refer to it as tapas as the Venetians won’t thank you for it.
Find a Rooftop View of Venice
We carried on wandering around the city, snapping away at all the beautiful sights while making our way to the department store called The Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
This historic building is situated on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge and was the headquarters of the city’s German merchants. Nowadays it has a secret on its rooftop, a 360-degree viewpoint of Venice which is free to visit.
Book online for a fifteen-minute slot to ensure you don’t get turned away.
The Rialto Bridge
As the sun started to set, and our designated time slot came to an end, we made our way back down to the Rialto Bridge. The bridge spans the Grand Canal and is the oldest still in use in Venice. It replaced a wooden bridge that stood here but which collapsed in 1524 under the weight of the people using it.
The current stone bridge completed in 1591 is 92 feet across, lined with shops under its arch and connects the island of San Marco to San Polo. The view of the Grand Canal from the bridge is picture-perfect, so make sure you are camera ready!
An After Dark Tour of St Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace
This evening we joined an exclusive after-hours tour of the Doges Palace and St Mark’s Basilica. Walks of Italy guarantee that each group will not exceed 15 people and that only three groups are admitted. It wasn’t hard to figure out that we would have both places to ourselves and that this would make it a very personal experience.
Day visits to the two most popular locations in Venice can be overwhelming due to the queuing times and the number of tourists that file in, and out and so this was the perfect answer.
Our tour was extremely informative and led by a local Venetian. It started at 7 pm in the Doge’s Palace and finished around 10.30 pm in the Basilica. The highlight for me was entering the Basilica in total darkness and experiencing the lights coming on one by one to illuminate the golden mosaics and art on display.
Evening Dinner Times
You should make sure you eat dinner before you go on the tour as the majority of restaurants will be closing by the time you finish. We found out the hard way as we presumed that, like other European cities, there would be options to dine late at night, but there wasn’t.
A small restaurant agreed to serve us on the premise that we could eat and be out within 20 minutes! Agreeing to this time frame, we bolted down a home-baked lasagne and returned to our hotel.
While you are in Venice you will be spoilt for choice with the vast selection of restaurants that are available. You might like to find out about some of them before you arrive, just remember there is more to Venice than just pizza and gelato!
Day Three Morning
A Trip to Murano
A day trip from Venice will take you to the islands in the Venetian Lagoon and should be featured on your itinerary.
Murano is known for glass-blowing, Burano is known for its colourful houses and lace-making, and Torcello is known for the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its Venetian-Byzantine mosaics.
We were taken to Murano by our hotel’s transport and learnt about the process that goes into producing the world’s finest glassware. A tour of a glass factory is fascinating; however, the showroom tour afterwards went on for too long. As travellers, we weren’t interested in purchasing a chandelier or similar and so made our retreat.
We headed to Murano’s main street where bars, restaurants and glass shops lined its sidewalk. The glass jewellery that is made there is beautiful, and so as I was on an anniversary trip, my husband kindly bought me a necklace to remind me of our romantic break.
After lunch in a canal-side restaurant, we made our way to the lighthouse where we caught the number 12 ferry to the island of Burano.
A Trip to Burano
Arriving in Burano fills you with joy. Brightly painted houses are a complete contrast to Venice. The main street is full of restaurants and artisan shops, but the best thing we enjoyed was leaving the main area and wandering along the side streets where it was tranquil and felt almost deserted.
For more information, please read my blog on what to do and see in Burano.
Our last evening was spent exploring the streets around our hotel. Dorsoduro is Venice’s university district with casual eateries and artisan shops sitting alongside cultural locations including the Peggy Guggenheim modern art museum and the Gallerie dell’Accademia, housing classic Venetian masterpieces.
The area has a bohemian vibe and is quieter than its neighbour San Marco.
I was now able to answer my questions regarding Venice. It most definitely was worth the 29-year wait, it far exceeded my expectations, and I did pretty well eating my body weight in gelato without a glimmer of guilt. Venice was a perfect trip taken with the ideal person.
My honest opinion of Venice
When did I travel? July
How was the weather? It was sweltering and humid.
Would I recommend the hotel? Yes. Hotel Nani Mochenigo Palace is an opulent boutique hotel in a former 15th-century Doge’s palace. It is located in the quieter area of Dorsoduro but only a 5-minute walk to the Zaterre water stop and 20 mins to St Mark’s Square. The room itself was comfortable with a sound air conditioning system and offered a basic continental breakfast.
Would I recommend three nights in Venice? Yes in a heartbeat, although for this city I would have liked one more night so I could have taken a slower pace. I loved the architecture, the canals, the pizza and gelato and the ease of being able to walk everywhere. The flight is under two hours from the UK and is one of the great places to visit in Europe for a weekend getaway.
Of course, if you are exploring Europe by land then Venice can also be visited by train or bus from bordering locations such as Zagreb in Croatia or Bari in Italy.